WASHINGTON — Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are rallying around the United Auto Workers union in its strike against General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV, formerly Fiat Chrysler.
But as Democrats settle into pro-union messaging, Republicans are using the walkout to drive a wedge between the union and President Joe Biden’s push for electric vehicles.
Roughly 13,000 workers walked out of three plants in Missouri, Michigan and Ohio — one plant belonging to each of the big Detroit automakers — early Friday after negotiators failed to agree on contracts before the 11:59 p.m. Thursday deadline. The walkout is the first in the union’s history against all three automakers.
“These are folks who have sacrificed over the years to make sure that these companies were successful and now that they’re very profitable, it’s time to share those profits to make sure that we can strengthen the American middle class,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. who joined a picket line at a Ford factory in Wayne, Mich., said in a video post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, in a sign that Republicans’ see an opportunity to tap potential union discontent with Democrats, said in a statement Wednesday he supports the UAW’s demand for higher wages. “But there is a 6,000-pound elephant in the room: the premature transition to electric vehicles,” he said.
Biden, who has proclaimed himself one of the “most pro-union presidents,” rejected the view that his push for electric vehicles is at odds with union interests. He said at the White House Friday that he is sending acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House adviser Gene Sperling to help the parties reach agreement, and noted the companies’ offers should ensure that “record corporate profits mean record contracts.”
“Strong unions are critical to growing the economy and growing it from the middle out, the bottom up, not the top down,” Biden said. “That’s especially true as we transition to a clean energy future which are in the process of doing. I believe that transition should be fair, and a win win for auto workers and auto companies.”
The administration has been doling out funding provided by the 2021 infrastructure law for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and giving tax credits for electric vehicle buyers enacted in a 2022 reconciliation bill.
Autoworkers see the push to electric vehicles as resulting in jobs in non-union factories in the U.S. and abroad, a contradiction of Biden’s promises to boost domestic manufacturing. The workers are also disgruntled about the EPA’s proposed rule on tailpipe emissions.
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